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By Christine Spinella Davis
Having a baby is a life-altering event that brings great joy and great challenges, and the challenges can be even greater for a mom who also maintains a legal career. As a full-time litigator who is also the mother of an 18-month-old girl, this past year and a half have taught me that while it is not easy, it is possible to have a rewarding legal career while being a good mom to a little one. I have learned what works for me to maintain that fine balance between life at home and at work, at least in the early years. I am writing this piece to pass on what I have learned with the hopes that it can help, even in some small way, other women attorneys who are already moms or future moms. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned:
Find a reliable caretaker.
Finding a caretaker you can rely on, whether it is daycare, a nanny, or days at grandma’s house, is far and away the most important component to maintaining this delicate balance. Given attorneys’ demanding schedules, it is essential that you have a caretaker who, besides providing excellent care, is someone you can trust to be there. Of course, people get sick and face unexpected personal issues, but such events should not regularly occur. It is hard enough trying to finish up a motion by its due date without being informed that you will have no daycare in the morning.
Arrange for backup childcare.
This is necessary for those unavoidable times when your caretaker isn’t able to work regular hours or to cover for you if a deposition runs late. Some law firms contract with local daycare providers for emergency daycare; if your firm does, find out the protocol for taking advantage of this benefit, whether or not you think you’ll use it (you may have to register your child with the daycare center beforehand). If your office doesn’t provide emergency daycare, be sure you have your own plan in place—another daycare center or individual who can step in. Just knowing you have alternative arrangements will help keep your sanity when emergencies arise.
Devote specific times each week to your child.
Even if you have to physically mark the “playdate” on your calendar, identify periods to set aside for you and your child. Maybe one hour every morning, or Saturday mornings and/or Sunday afternoons—whatever works best for you. I have found that knowing I have certain time set aside for my daughter makes it easier for me to work other times.
Prepare in advance for the week ahead.
Do as much in advance as you can for the upcoming week – even planning menus or cooking ahead when possible. I also find it helpful to set out a weekly schedule for my household. I keep a simple dry-erase board on the refrigerator to track meetings and appointments. This ensures that everyone is on the same page and we don’t inadvertently miss that doctor’s appointment it took two months to get.
Make other family members pull their weight.
You cannot work full time and be responsible for all the household responsibilities. If you try, you will eventually burn out. Assign weekly tasks to other members of the household, including not only your spouse or significant other, but also older children if you have any. Even if the tasks are as limited as emptying the dishwasher or taking out the trash every night, it will help keep your life at home organized.
Don’t be afraid to accept help.
I’ll be the first to admit that being a working mom can be draining. In order to get everything done, I have willingly accepted help at home, whether it’s babysitting by the grandparents or help with the yard. I know that as much as I might like to be Wonder Woman (a role many women lawyers are drawn to), I am not. Don’t be too proud to accept help.
Don’t let what anyone else thinks bother you.
In life, there will always be people who disagree with the choices we make. Whether it’s the stay-at-home moms in your neighborhood or your in-laws or anyone else, don’t let other people’s opinions about whether or how much you should be working affect you. We shouldn’t judge other people and they shouldn’t be judging us – so don’t even give it a second thought.
Set aside time for yourself.
Making time for things you simply enjoy is essential. Go to your weekly yoga class, meet your friend for coffee, garden. Doing something you enjoy that is not child- or work-related will prevent you from burning out. Think of it as a rejuvenating activity that will allow you to be a better attorney and a better mom.
Maintaining a legal career and being a mom is a delicate balancing act, but know that it can be done – and you can handle both roles well – even if it requires a little planning and assistance.
About the Author
Christine Spinella Davis is a senior associate in the Washington, D.C. office of Howrey LLP and is Chair of the YLD Tort, Trial & Insurance Practice Committee. She can be reached at email@example.com.